We are tired, scared and fed up But we can’t let compassion fatigue keep us from seeking justice and fairness
All over my social media channels, I see the notes pouring in from friends: “Going off Facebook for a while.” “Checking out of social media this week.” “Going dark. Can’t take anymore.” In conversations with friends – including longtime seasoned activists, a lot of the talk of late has focused on the sheer volume of stuff coming our way almost daily.
We’ve prayed for #Orlando. We’ve prayed for #BatonRouge. We’ve prayed for #Dallas. In recent days, we’ve added Turkey and Nice, France. We have kept the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in our thoughts and prayers.
The truth is that we are tired, scared and fed up. We’re disheartened with the anger and the hate that is fueling a toxic climate. We are overwhelmed by what seems like a never-ending period of senseless acts of violence – both at home and abroad. And we are done with politicians who are more focused on scoring political points than they are in finding solutions.
We’ve entered the stage where too many of us feel so helpless that we want to throw up our hands and walk away. Others feel as if we have pushed and cajoled, and there is nothing else that we can do. All of us are dealing with the pain and anguish of these times.
I’m an organizer. My mission in life is to gather groups of people affected by injustice so they can work together to effectively demand social change. I know about our potential for burnout and the need for self-care. I also know that social movements have brought about transformative change in this country.
But this year has been unbelievably brutal. On immigration, police accountability, racial justice and a number of other fronts, we have faced nothing but setbacks. Defeats. To make matters worse, the elections have brought about a toxic climate that has demonized people of color, Muslims and women and led to rampant acts of violence targeting these groups. The anger and hostility from white folks in some parts of the country has been nothing short of alarming.
This has been a year of sleepless nights. In those quiet moments, when my fears for our current state keep me staring emptily at the ceiling, even I succumb to feelings of defeat in the face of what seems like a deluge of rage.
And then I read about the sister of slain Baton Rouge, Louisiana, officer Montrell Jackson, Joycelyn Jackson, who said in her grief, “It’s coming to the point where no lives matter.”
Her baby brother, at 32, knew what it was like to be on both sides of a hated group. He was a black man and a police officer. In a Facebook post shortly before his death, Jackson wrote, “In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat … These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”
And I see the efforts of those with power to divide us to blame the violence on peaceful social movement and those ordinary citizens working to bring about change through nonviolence. To be clear, both men who killed police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge (and were subsequently killed by police) said that they acted alone and were not part of any movement.
How did we get here? At what point do we say enough? At what point do we rally around each other to focus on solving the problems that have brought us to this moment?
The bottom line is that we – each of us – have to take ownership of the problems. We need to acknowledge the racism against people of color in all aspects of our society that has led to income disparities, substandard education and dead-end, low-paying jobs. We need to openly admit the poverty that disproportionately affects people of color and confront the lack of police accountability in our communities. We need to find consensus between this nation’s gun culture and the gun violence we see destroying our families. We need to fix our broken immigration system and embrace our immigrant brothers and sisters who give so much to this country.
And yes, we must call on the forces of power – the police, government, elected leaders – to stand down in the face of a changing America.
But one belief is immutable: We cannot solve these problems through violence.
We need to remember the lessons of India’s Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and other great leaders who moved people to fundamentally change their societies through nonviolence. Not because it was easy. On the contrary, for them, nonviolence didn’t just mean not engaging in violence. It was a philosophy that served as a call to people to actively resist oppression to bring about change.
Gandhi remarked that “the essence of nonviolent technique is that it seeks to liquidate antagonisms but not the antagonists.”
King and the civil rights movement he inspired followed famously in his footsteps, employing Ghandi’s methods of sit-ins, peaceful demonstrations, blockades, strikes and civil disobedience. As history shows us, violence greeted these actions. Yet these efforts succeeded because people rose up to own the problems in society at the time when even government resisted.
It’s time that we follow a page from their example. It’s the surest way to overcome compassion fatigue.
As a start, I pledge that even though I am angry, I will lead with love.
I pledge that though I am tired, I will use my energy to build a new America rooted in justice and fairness.
And even though my spirit has been tested by the despair of lives lost, I pledge to renew my faith every day in the possibility of a better future.